The Veteran and Military vote is always one of the most coveted in American elections. Candidates know that Americans hold Veterans and soldiers in a revered light, and they must appeal to those who guard our freedoms. Beyond that, Presidential candidates are just one vote away from becoming Commander in Chief of our Armed Forces, and how they intend to perform this role will be defining features of their potential Presidency. In 2020, the competition between President Trump and Vice President Joe Biden was a cutthroat affair. Each candidate championed themselves as protectors of our troops, while denigrating the other as unfit to lead.
To appeal to Veteran voters, Joe Biden relied primarily on a two-pronged approach. The first part of this messaging campaign was to relate to Veterans through his late son, Beau, who was a combat Veteran who deployed on behalf of the country to Iraq. The second aspect of this strategy was to seize upon the media reports, however reliable or not, which claimed Donald Trump denigrated fallen soldiers and failed to protect them. From the Biden campaign website: “…we have only one truly sacred obligation: to properly prepare and equip our troops when we send them into harm’s way… As the parents of a son who deployed to Iraq, Joe and Jill Biden understand the gravity of this promise.” Biden employed both angles during a September 15th roundtable question & answer session in Tampa, Florida. On his son: “…he had to get an exemption because he was attorney general in the state of Delaware, to go with his unit to Iraq, and he went for a year.” And then Biden brought the tactic full circle on alleged Trump comments, stating, “As reported from a very reliable source, and confirmed by many major outlets… he was standing by the grave site, he allegedly said, “I don’t get it. What was in it for them?” Biden’s primary message to Veterans was simple. Donald Trump doesn’t believe in selfless service to one’s country, but Joe Biden and his family do and have lived it.
Conversely, Donald Trump made his play for the Veteran vote by touting his perceived successes as Commander in Chief and resurrecting what he saw as Joe Biden’s failures in government as Vice President and Senator. President Trump’s main charges against Biden are that under the Obama/Biden Administrations, our Military was drastically underfunded. Something, he says, he turned around. From the Trump campaign website: “President Trump signed the National Defense Authorization Act, granting $738 billion for defense spending including the first ever paid family leave and a 3.1% pay increase for troops.” Another aspect of Biden’s failures, in Trump’s messaging, was the constant military adventurism which lasted for decades in Washington. The Military Times quotes Trump during his nomination acceptance, stating ““Four years ago I ran for president because I could not watch this betrayal of our country any longer… Unlike previous administrations I have kept America out of new wars, and our troops are coming home.” The VA Scandal of 2014 was also a talking point for Trump, who has long maintained that his expansion of VA Choice righted the betrayal of our Veterans by Obama/Biden. In their first Presidential Debate, Trump charged that “308,000 military people dying because you couldn’t provide them proper healthcare in the military.” The core strategy of Trump’s outreach to Vets throughout the campaign was that Joe talked the talk, but often failed Veterans and Military with little or incompetent action.
Determining who most effectively courted Veteran voters can be difficult to quantify, but the best method in doing so would be to examine exit polls from this year’s election against 2016. In 2016, Donald Trump carried the Veteran vote by a considerable margin against the opponent Hillary Clinton. According to exit polls conducted by CNN, Trump was able to achieve 60% of the Veteran bloc. The New York Times confirmed this, reporting the Veteran vote for Trump at 61%. A review of this year’s exit polling confirms that Trump once again carried the Veteran vote. CNN tallied the Veteran vote at 54% for Trump, The New York Times confirmed the same. While this may suggest that Trump was ultimately more successful at currying favor with Veterans, it is noteworthy how he lost a considerable margin to Biden. This data confirms what seems to be true about the election in general: this was an extremely polarized election, and Joe Biden effectively diminished Trump’s appeal just enough to secure a victory.
Image Credit: Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash
As Congress has become increasingly partisan and filled with career politicians, public trust in Congress has steadily reached new lows. We need more Veterans in Congress and many organizations are dedicated to making this happen.